Potholes and cracks on the way to autonomy

The rush to get autonomous vehicles on the road is amazing. Never before have geeks working on artificial intelligence and sensor fusion been so in demand and commanded such salaries. Startups with no revenue and a few good people are selling to big names like GM and Ford for tens of millions of dollars, if not more. How can this be, when everyone agrees that our transportation infrastructure is crumbling? How will autonomous vehicles perform on roads that are full of potholes and bridges that have cracks?

125 years ago we moved to the horseless carriage. Are we now guilty of putting the cart before the horse? Putting the autonomous vehicle before the transportation infrastructure? How can companies be putting more money into driverless vehicles, while our government does not put the money into the infrastructure? The I-75 construction project in Michigan is expected to take until 2030 to be completed, yet, Ford will have an autonomous vehicle on the road by 2021 according to their investor presentation this week.

Maybe, putting the cart before the horse is necessary in our society. We did not have the roads and bridges necessary to support the horseless carriage at the beginning of the last decade. Maybe it should not be a surprise that industry is pushing the driverless carriage and the roads, bridges, and communications infrastructure necessary are not quite ready. It seems that industry cannot spend money on transportation infrastructure, so they spend the money on the carriage. With pressure from industry and people who want the driverless carriage, governments finally allocate the funds necessary to support the carriage.

I was not around at the time Gottlieb Daimler, Henry Ford, and others started their quest for horseless carriages. I don’t think the government spent a great deal of money encouraging the development of the horseless carriage. Instead, I believe they responded by funding the infrastructure. That is not the case a century later as we drive toward driverless carriages. Our government is spending a sizeable amount of its money encouraging the further development of the carriage. Perhaps the money being spent on the carriage should be redirected to the infrastructure? That way we won’t have so many potholes and cracks on the way to autonomy.

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